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WTM chairman cornered at WTM

LONDON (eTN) - Fiona Jeffery has held the position as the chairman of Reed Exhibitions' World Travel Market (WTM) for the past few years.

WTM chairman cornered at WTM

LONDON (eTN) – Fiona Jeffery has held the position as the chairman of Reed Exhibitions’ World Travel Market (WTM) for the past few years. As such, she is one of the key figures to speak to during the event. This year, reporters literally “cornered” her as event organizers placed her interview “room” right next to the women’s very busy bathroom on Level 3 of the Media Center. While the constant banging of the door from that very busy bathroom was a nuisance, Jeffery gamely answered eTN’s questions.

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Facts and Figures
Every year, WTM just seems to keep growing in numbers of exhibitors. When asked whether the global recession has had an impact on the number of exhibitors in this year’s edition of WTM, Jeffrey said: “Surprisingly, not. We have grown at World Travel Market, not massively. What we have seen some significant impact in the European destinations, so we’ve seen reductions in destinations like Spain, particularly. But, we have also seen growth in some of the emerging economies like India, which has grown by 28%. So overall, WTM is bigger than it was last year. We got more participation from companies and organizations, but the shift and balance of where that is coming from has changed slightly.”

According to the WTM chairman, there are over 5000 exhibitors in this year’s edition of WTM, therefore making it the biggest edition of the event in its history. There are about 129 new exhibitors, according to unofficial data from WTM staff. “That is an increase in previous year,” Jeffrey added.

Sports Tourism: Still the Hoopla?
Last year, Jeffery said that World Travel Market, among the first to raise the profile of sports tourism within the global industry, is setting out to dispel many of the commonly held views about the sector at an important keynote debate on the opening day. At the end of that debate, it was really not quite sure whether sports tourism is a good thing or a bad thing for “regular” tourism. “The rewards are indeed extremely high, but so are the risks,” Jeffery, in 2009, then said.

At this year’s WTM, she seemed to have steered clear from the discussion on sports tourism, shunning this year’s discussion on the sports tourism sector. I asked her bluntly: Are you a fan of the London 2012 Olympic Games. She said: “Am I a fan of Olympics? Yes, I am because I think anything that inspires anybody to be more physically active and inspires the younger generation, then, yes, I think that’s a fantastic thing. Do I believe that it will improve tourism in the UK market? I am afraid that I am not one of those believers. If you look and analyze what’s happened with major Olympic destinations in the past.”

The European Tour Operators Association (ETOA) has been vocal in its position that the Olympics posts a threat to UK’s normal tourism and that London’s travel and tourism industry stands to lose during the Games. Last year, Jeffery wasn’t quite sure where she stood on this issue. This year, however, she is siding with ETOA. She said: “I think ETOA have a very big point, and that’s one of the major concerns. I think the UK travel and tourism industry has got to try overcome and plan for. What isn’t right is that the industry is fed with lots of inspiring statistics that don’t end up becoming reality. We are far better dealing with what is true and realistic and managing business around that.”

Developed Countries Versus Emerging Countries
During her speech at this year’s WTM opening ceremony, she alluded that governments from developing countries place greater importance and care on their respective travel and tourism industry as opposed to developed countries. The United Kingdom, for instance, is once again increasing its air travel tax. According to Jeffery, the cost of flying is due to go up again this month with a rise in the harmful and, in my opinion, utterly wrong Air Passenger Duty, which has ballooned by an astonishing 400% since it was first introduced in 1994.

“Developing and emerging destinations really value travel and tourism as an industry because it helps them attract new revenues in to the destination. It also encourages, in destinations, to develop their infrastructure whether it’s roads, hotels, tourism attractions. The sense of bringing revenue in to local communities as well that benefit from tourism. So, yes, the perspective and the value of travel and tourism as an industry is quite different depending whether you are a developed or an emerging destination.”

Boeing Versus Airbus
The guest of honor designated to officially declare this year’s event open was Jeff Cacy, Boeing Commercial’s managing director of Airline Marketing Services. Cacy deveoted large portion of his time during the opening ceremony today on what can easily be referred to as an “infomercial” on Boeing’s Dreamliner which baffled many attendees. Several video footages of the aircraft were shown and bragged about securing orders from six continents. The first video showed the aircraft’s first test flight in Seattle, another showed two “very enthusiastic Japanese pilots flying the plane, and another video showed the aircraft’s features from the point of view of an economy and business passenger. In light of what has happened to Airbus’ A380, with both Qantas and Singapore Airlines grounding their entire A380 fleets, the Dreamliner highlight at the WTM opening ceremony almost seemed a calculated move. Jeffery said: “Well, you know, before we knew anything [about the A380], we had already invited Boeing Dreamliner to participate here. The fact is, I see Dreamliner as a major development in aviation.”

More so than the A380? “Yes, I think I do. I think the whole experience. I see a Dreamliner as a major development in aviation. It really does transform the traveling experience. And yet so many people talk about loving to travel. What they actually mean is loving to be in destination. Most people actually find the traveling experience quite honorous. If you can actually get on a flight that gertss you there faster, gets you there in a much better shape, then it’s a much more pleasant experience. Then, actually I think that is a major boost for travel and tourism.”

And you don’t think the A380 has done that? “Ah…I do not know much about the A380 enough to pass comments.”

Jeffery also talked about the latest features and highlights of this year’s WTM, including the return of Iraq to WTM. But, that’s going to be an entirely different article, so watch out for it